Attitude changed after closed-door meeting, ousted gay principal says
GRESHAM, Ore. - Wednesday was the last day of school for North Gresham Elementary, but the principal who has dismissed students there for summer vacation the past 10 years wasn't there.
Tom Klansnic, or Mr. K. as the kids know him, was let go by the district earlier this school year.
He says he was fired because he is gay.
"It was very interesting to me that it happened exactly when I got divorced and exactly when I came out and told my friends and began to tell my family that I was gay. And told my wife and my son," he said in an interview Wednesday. "The way I was treated in the school district changed drastically."
Klansnic spent 25 years as a teacher and administrator in Oregon. It was a conversation behind closed doors that he says triggered a change of attitude toward him.
"And after that happened is when things started to change with the way that I was being treated," he said. "So I connected the two that it must be because I'm gay - because I've gotten awards for my work working in this school district - an exceptional report card from the state of Oregon for a poor school - that just doesn't happen very often."
He said he thought that coming out might affect his career.
"But I thought, I am who I am, and like I said before, I'm a great principal, and I know I am because I've done it long enough and have enough other people honor me with awards and honor me with things that they say," he said.
Coming out was momentous. He received support from his family and parents.
"My sister and my brother, they both said, 'We don't care, Tommy, we always thought you were gay anyway,'" he said. "I did not have one parent come in or call on the phone and say that they were upset that I was gay. Not one."
But he said it was that private conversation with a supervisor that changed how he was treated.
"The words that were said to me, the reason I feel I was being discriminated against were said behind closed doors and it was just me and another person. And they were bullying words, and they had to do with who I am. And when all is said and done there is no law that says you can't be mean to a person or laws that say you can't bully. There's no law that says that. That's why I didn't take it any further."
Klansnic has moved out of Oregon. But he's not done with education.
"The kids in the state where I'm moving - they have to know who Mr. K is. So I'm not done with my work," he said.
Earlier this year, there was an anti-bullying rally and event day at the school. Klansnic championed the initiative that went national. Weeks later he was let go.
On Wednesday, Klansnic said that for the past three years he was the one being bullied by the school district because he's gay.
The Gresham-Barlow School District has a non-discrimination policy and maintains it has not discriminated against Klansnic.
The district also recently settled a dispute with the principal without admission of liability or wrongdoing.
Klansnic said the reason he wanted to talk about this was to stand up to bullying.